This epic battle has been raging for a long time… way before I met it head on when I adopted felting as my primary process.
ART VERSUS CRAFT
At first, I tried on the Craft moniker tentatively…sure it fit, like an oversized yellow rain poncho, shouting loudly to the world “I AM NOW A CRAFTER. A FELTER.” It was truth and yet it didn’t feel true. I felt shorted. That moniker dismissed my previous history with such disregard that in every conversation I was compelled to add a disclaimer “I was a painter for 20+ years before I ever picked up an ounce of wool.” (It’s in my artist statement too.)
As it became clearer that I was suffocating in that giant poncho, I tried desperately to slough it off. “I AM A SCULPTOR!” I actually wept when it was pointed out to me by the ineffable Jackie Battenfield that to call myself a felting artist missed the mark. Being a Sculptor had been an unspoken dream since I was little. What had I done??
By then, I was already entrenched in the local chapter of what is now TennesseeCraft.org and surrounded by a community of the loveliest craft artisans. Good, hard-working makers of beautiful objects. Wasn’t I also a maker of beautiful objects?
Was it only my intention that tipped the scale of ART and CRAFT?
Certainly seeing my wooly work in gallery settings tipped the scale heavily to the ART side. Funny what a simple white box pedestal can do. In my home, each piece is constantly handled, knocked over, played with, used as container, etc… but in a gallery setting, the object is elevated to something far beyond utilitarian. It is meant to be pondered, written about, discussed. Oooooo, so enticing when one starts to believe the work is “more than”.
And then by sheer coincidence, I found myself at the Smithsonian Craft show in D.C. a few months ago. The artists/artisans/crafters/ there were incredibly generous with their time, conversations were insightful, useful and friendly. I got goosebumps at the sheer talent in the room. Their work, easily the best in the country, was more accessible that ART and more sublime than CRAFT. These fine folks had found a balance for themselves!
Perhaps the most ridiculous part in all this, is that my process hasn’t changed all that much during this mental see-sawing. Struggling with trying to label myself is pointless, especially because each viewer can and will do that for me. The more comfortable I become with dropping the “VS.” the more opportunities I find to show and share what I do.
Here’s to ending the battle and finding balance.